Rhodes Course Turns Students into Volunteer Tax Preparers at Memphis Sites

an older male professor stands near a gothic-style building and smiles for the camera
Ferron Thompson of the Department of Business

The Taxation and the Working Poor course gives interested students the opportunity to become certified tax preparers and apply their training in the classroom outside of Rhodes in the Memphis community. Taught by Prof. Ferron Thompson of the Department of Business (pictured), it is a two-credit course meeting during the spring semester. Students from any major are welcome to take to class, which also fulfills the F11 requirement. Thompson says classroom discussions include topics relevant to current national and international economic taxation policies, the misconceptions of the lives of the working poor, and how they are affected by the U.S. federal tax system. “We talk about unusual experiences, gratifying experiences, difficulties, and really anything students like to bring up. We also discuss other issues that face the working poor, such as consumer taxation.”

The class operates through a partnership with SaveFirst, an initiative run by the Tennessee branch of Impact America, which focuses on various programs designed to help people in areas ranging from healthcare to financial management. This specific service utilizes area college students as volunteers to help their community members file their taxes and get the most out of their refunds. Rhodes students have taken part in the SaveFirst initiative for two tax seasons now. 

Last spring was the class’ inaugural year, and it ended up being a remarkable success—32 students enrolled in the class helped community members receive $700,000 overall in refunds and tax preparation fees. This year, 28 students are enrolled in the class. They can volunteer at four different sites, but the Binghampton Community Development Center has the largest Rhodes involvement. 

Iris Hao, a commerce and business major, took the course last year and is serving as a volunteer again this year. “This time, I took the advanced exam to get certified as an advanced tax preparer. I have been volunteering at two different tax sites for about 8 hours a week during the past two months. My responsibilities include preparing tax returns for low income families, assisting other basic tax preparers to conduct quality review for their returns, and assisting site coordinators to ensure the normal operation of the tax site. I think it is a meaningful opportunity that I can really apply what I have learned in the classroom at Rhodes as well as through the volunteer training with IRS to help more people using my own skills.”    

Hao is interested in pursuing a career in individual and corporate tax. Learn more about the commerce and business major at Rhodes

By Lizzie Choy ’17